Hydroxy acids (HAs) represent a class of compounds which have been widely used in a number of cosmetic and therapeutic formulations in order to achieve a variety of beneficial effects for the skin. We review and discuss the most frequently used classes of these compounds, such as α-hydroxy acids, β-hydroxy acids, polyhydroxy acids, and bionic acids, and describe their applications as cosmetic and therapeutic agents. Special emphasis is devoted to the safety evaluation of these formulations, in particular on the effects of their prolonged use on sun-exposed skin. Furthermore, we summarize the very limited number of studies dealing with the modifications evoked by topical application of products containing HAs on photocarcinogenesis. In spite of the large number of reports on the cosmetic and clinical effects of HAs, their biological mechanism(s) of action still require more clarification. Some of these mechanisms are discussed in this article along with important findings on the effect of HAs on melanogenesis and on tanning. We also emphasize the important contribution of cosmetic vehicles in these types of studies. Thus, HAs play an important role in cosmetic formulations, as well as in many dermatologic applications, such as in treating photoaging, acne, ichthyosis, rosacea, pigmentation disorders, and psoriasis.
Keywords: UV; cosmetics; erythema; glycolic acid; hydroxy acids; salicylic acid.